Large Animal

What Are Ruminant Animals?

Dec 15 • 2 minute read

If you own livestock, you may know cattle and sheep as ruminant animals. The term refers to a large group of herbivores with a four-chambered stomach. Most ruminants have hooves with two digits, and they are also the only animals that can digest their food without thoroughly chewing it. Commonly known ruminant animals include cows, sheep, goats, moose, camels, deer, giraffes, and buffalos.

The Different Feeding Types of Ruminant Animals

Ruminants feed on grass, shrubs, and other vegetation, which they turn into protein and energy. They fit into three main categories based on their diet preferences.

  1. Roughage Eaters: Roughage eaters are ruminant animals that feed on grass and other high-fiber plant materials. Although they like fresh grass, roughage eaters can also digest fermenting material. Most farm animals are roughage eaters, including sheep and cattle.
  1. Concentrate Selectors: Concentrate selectors include animals like giraffes and deer. They prefer plants that are easy to digest and contain high levels of nutrients like protein, fat, and starch. Unlike roughage eaters, concentrate selectors cannot digest fiber and plant cell cellulose.
  1. Intermediate Ruminants: Intermediate ruminants have the digestive adaptations of concentrate selectors and roughage eaters. They can feed on both vegetation types, although they have limitations when digesting cellulose from plant cell walls. A good example of intermediate ruminants is goats, which can feed on flowering herbaceous plants, shrubs, and woody plants.

What Makes Ruminant Animals Unique?

The digestive system of ruminant animals differs from other mammals, which sets them apart. A ruminant’s digestive system consists of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach with four compartments (rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum). It also has the small intestine, cecum, and large intestines. Other animals only have a stomach with one chamber.

All ruminants have no upper incisors in their mouths. However, they have a hard dental pad that the lower incisors work against when chewing. Feed mixes with saliva during chewing before passing into the esophagus towards the stomach. Since ruminants feed rapidly, the esophagus allows ruminants to regurgitate cud for further chewing (rumination) whenever necessary.

Here’s how the four chambers of a ruminant’s stomach work.

  • Rumen: The rumen is the first chamber of the stomach and connects to the esophagus. It stores chewed feed, creates cud, and helps in nutrient absorption. Rumen also helps with fermentation and in the creation of rumen microbes that digest proteins.
  • Reticulum: The reticulum connects to the rumen via a thin tissue. It traps food particles and objects that are too large or dense to digest, including rocks.
  • Omasum: The omasum has a lining of tissue folds resembling a book. Absorption of nutrients and water occurs here after the feed has gone through chewing twice.
  • Abomasum: Also known as the “true stomach,” the abomasum is the last chamber of a ruminant’s stomach. It functions like a non-ruminant stomach and contains glands that produce digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acids to break down feed further.

While each section performs a unique role, anything that affects one compartment will adversely affect the rest of the stomach chambers and, eventually, the animal’s health. Common health issues that ruminants may suffer include rumen impaction due to insufficient water intake, acidosis, and fatty liver.

Keep Your Livestock in Good Health

Like any species of animal, ruminants are unique creatures with specific care requirements. Always seek professional help if you notice anything unusual in your ruminant animal to avoid further complications. By understanding more about ruminant animals, you are in a better position to keep your livestock happy and healthy.

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